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Trump wanted Barr to clear his name on Ukraine by holding news conference

WH strategy to fight impeachment PR battle

President Trump wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a press conference saying the president had not broken any laws during the July 25 phone call during which he urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden, CBS News has confirmed, according to multiple sources.

Barr ultimately declined to do so, although the Justice Department did release a statement alongside the release of a rough transcript summary of the call saying that the Office of Legal Counsel had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Mr. Trump's desire for Barr to state publicly that the president had broken no laws was first reported by The Washington Post. The whistleblower complaint expressing concern about the call was the impetus for an ongoing impeachment inquiry.  Barr has largely been absent from the spotlight since the impeachment inquiry was opened.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Trump denied that Barr had declined his request to hold a press conference, calling the story a "fake Washington Post con job."

"Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine. The story was a Fake Washington Post con job with an "anonymous" source that doesn't exist. Just read the Transcript. The Justice Department already ruled that the call was good. We don't have freedom of the press!" Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Trump's tweet comes as the impeachment inquiry escalates, with Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announcing on Wednesday that the inquiry's open hearings will be next week, featuring three witnesses.

The committees released a transcript of closed-door testimony by one of those witnesses on Wednesday. Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, repeatedly raised concerns about linking U.S. military aid to investigations into the president's rivals.

"That was my clear understanding: security assistance money would not come until the president [of Ukraine] committed to pursue the investigation," Taylor said under questioning, according to the transcript.

Despite closed-door testimony from several witnesses over the past month, congressional Republicans continue to insist that there was no wrongdoing by the president, and have repeatedly attacked the process set by the House Democratic majority.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch ally of the president, said Wednesday that he believed the Trump administration's Ukraine policy was "incoherent," and the administration was "incapable of forming a quid pro quo."

Stefan Becket and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report

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